Serenade to Music

Thursday 21st January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Grainger  In a Nutshell, 20′
  • Vaughan Williams  Serenade to Music †, 14′
  • Varese  Ionisation, 8′
  • Judith Weir Storm †, 18′
  • Grainger  The Warriors , 20′

Imagine warriors of all times and all lands, gathering in one place to drink and dance; imagine jazz breaks, three pianos, and a super-sized orchestra… and you’re starting to get some idea of Percy Grainger’s jaw-dropping The Warriors. Add Vaughan Williams’ ravishing, Shakespeare-inspired Serenade, 16 brilliant young soloists, a spirited showcase for the CBSO’s world-beating young choruses and a “Gum-Suckers’ March”, and…well, what can we say? You’ve simply got to hear it!

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here for a month

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And because of these forces we had a remarkable bonus, Edgard Varese’s Ionisation for 13 percussionists and piano, crisply, precisely directed by Seal, and beautifully phrased and coloured by the players.

By contrast, a tiny instrumental ensemble (including many of the flute family) accompanied the expert CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses in a revival of Judith Weir’s Storm, keenly imagined and with a lovely serene ending. Under Simon Halsey the youngsters sang with confident projection and brilliant diction, and all from memory, to the delight of the composer, interviewed engagingly onstage, like the two conductors, by presenter Tom Redmond.

The texts came from The Tempest, this performance a contribution to the CBSO’s Shakespeare quatercentenary thread. And particularly heartwarming was the presentation of one of the most beautiful Shakespearean works ever penned, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

This setting of the Belmont Scene from Act V of The Merchant of Venice requires 16 solo singers, and for its premiere celebrating Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor in 1938, the composer specified 16 named soloists at the top of the professional tree.

Here Simon Halsey presented 16 students from Conservatoires UK-wide, and what a wonderful sound they created, both in their individual contributions and in their melding together as a choral group.”     …

Beethoven’s Eroica

Wednesday 2nd December, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Capriccio espagnol, 15′
  • Scriabin  Piano Concerto, 28′
  • Beethoven  Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), 47′

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Yevgeny Sudbin’s encore – Scriabin Mazurka Op 25 No 3

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert – here – for 29 days

With two mighty chords, Ludwig van Beethoven launched a musical insurrection. There’s still nothing in all of music to match the drama of Beethoven’s revolutionary Eroica symphony, and CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal conducts it with absolute commitment and unstoppable energy. Expect some serious voltage; an explosive contrast to Scriabin’s deliriously romantic early masterpiece – the greatest concerto Rachmaninov never wrote? – and Rimsky Korsakov’s all-glittering, all-dancing Capriccio espagnol.

Support the CBSO’s Be Uplifted A Festive Appeal supporting youth and community singing

Michael Seal on Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin and Beethoven

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Throughout, Seal’s reading followed through on the subversive logic of that headlong opening; paragraphs of Bruckner-like spaciousness and grandeur were punctuated, confronted and swung around by those climactic passages of violent release. This wasn’t the roughest “Eroica” you’ll hear – or for that matter the smoothest – but it was intelligent, articulate and on its own terms powerfully convincing.

Seal had opened the concert with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol – one of those supposedly hackneyed popular classics that you actually never seem to hear any more. Rimsky said that in the Capriccio orchestral colour is the musical substance, and Seal responded by simply playing the socks off it. Rhythms were crisp, colours iridescent, and amidst a parade of exuberantly characterised solos, Oliver Janes’s clarinet and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fresh, fluid tone stood out. It was gleefully, unapologetically up-front, and the all-rattling, all-jangling final Alborada brought cheers from the audience. There’s life in this warhorse yet.

Yevgeny Sudbin

Scriabin’s solitary Piano Concerto, meanwhile, continues to hover on the fringes of the repertoire, with most of its (fairly rare) champions treating it either as supercharged Chopin or half-baked Rachmaninov. Not Yevgeny Sudbin (pictured above). Seal went for clarity rather than poetry in the opening bars, and it soon became clear that this was precisely Sudbin’s own approach. Scriabin’s too: what we usually hear as a perfumed dream of a first movement is actually marked Allegro.” …

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Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review (for matinee of same programme)

Cymbals crashed, tambourines rattled, the triangle threw a sprinkling of silver over the orchestral clatter that opens Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, and the CBSO’s Spanish picture was one full of red and earthen colours, varied textures and well directed dynamic developments. The musicians gave it transparency where needed and opened the windows to let in sound scraps of travelling folk in the third movement violin solo, aptly played gypsy-style with scratching attack and quick, strong vibrato.

While the various solo passages for the violin still hint at the composer’s initial plan for the piece to be set for violin and orchestra, he later abandoned this in favour of a compositional outline that allows all groups of the orchestra to display their art. And they shone, from Oliver Janes’ lively clarinet to Marie-Christine Zupancic’s bubbling flute. The orchestra seemed to burst with energy, expressed with softer articulation in the woodwinds, proud brass and ever-precise percussion, culminating in wild, whirling abandon – a magnificent noise!

How different a picture Scriabin’s Piano Concerto painted after this exuberance of sunshine and joy. “No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death,” writes Scriabin’s biographer, and there is at least some truth to it as his works still seem to be programmed fairly infrequently – unjustifiedly so! Just listen to his wonderfully emotional piano concerto for a few minutes. It is a work awash with Chopinesque sentiment and lush orchestral passages that often threaten to smother the piano’s expressive chord statements in the first movement.

Yevgeny Sudbin often surrendered to the orchestra’s forces, but then again wound his way out in intricate tracery, tender, round articulation and a brilliant tone without acidity. While one would often have wished to hear more of him and just a little bit less orchestral sweep, his playing mirrored the great influence Chopin had on Scriabin’s early works, not just in the fleeting arpeggios, but also the mazurka with alternating tender, dreamy passages and a more energetic, resolute reply that, heard just one, will not leave your head for weeks.

Sudbin played with relaxed concentration, using his fingers rather than the entire arm, as if he was playing Chopin’s very own 19th century Pleyel. His strokes were very controlled and rounded, almost all emphasis came from the wrists which otherwise breathed along with the phrases. There were no great gestures, no mannerisms, just a very honest, solemn and modest performance that made for my personal highlight that afternoon.”   …

 

 

CBSO Youth Orchestra: An Alpine Symphony

Sunday 1st November, 7.00pm

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Programme

  • Nielsen  Helios Overture, 12′
  • Lindberg  Clarinet Concerto , 28′
  • Strauss  An Alpine Symphony, 50′

“What a hope for the future!” declared one critic after hearing the CBSO Youth Orchestra – but tonight the future is here, as Michael Seal and 120 world-class young musicians storm the heights of Strauss’s colossal Alpine Symphony. Nielsen’s solar-powered overture and a true contemporary classic – played by another young star – launch them on their way. Glaciers? Waterfalls? Alpine storms? In the phenomenal acoustic of Symphony Hall, hearing is believing.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Julian Bliss was the assured soloist, fully up to the work’s demands of phrasing, breathing, and embouchure-technique. Gloopy microtones, comedic effects? No problem, and always unfolded in a logical line teeming with incident. Seal’s CBSOYO collaborated with an empathy which belied their years.

Finally came the awesome challenge of Richard Strauss’s Alpensinfonie, a dawn to dusk traversal of a Bavarian mountain, and totally moving and exciting in its performance here. Winds are often easy to praise, and these deserved to be, but not so often do we mention the strings; here they were extraordinary, pouring out a wonderful maturity of tone, not least from the lower cohorts.

I cannot praise enough the maturity of every section. I have heard young brass players showing off like nobody’s business. I have seen percussionists turning what they do into a theatrical performance.

Nothing like that here. This was an Alpensinfonie under Michael Seal which was all about the music, and it will stay long in the memory.”

Star Wars

Friday 16th October, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

Programme

  • Newman – 20th Century Fox Fanfare
  • Williams – Star Wars Theme
  • Williams – Episode 1: The Phantom Menace Flag Parade
  • Williams – Anakin’s Theme
  • Williams – Adventures of Jar-Jar Binks
  • Williams – Duel of the Fates
  • Williams – Episode 2: Attack of the Clones Across the Stars
  • Williams – Yoda’s Theme
  • Williams – The Imperial March
  • Williams – Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith Battle of the Heroes
  • Williams – Episode 4: A New Hope Here They Come!
  • Williams – The Cantina Band
  • Williams – Princess Leia’s Theme
  • Williams – Throne Room
  • Williams – Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back Asteroid Field
  • Williams – Episode 6; Return of the Jedi Luke and Leia’s Theme
  • Williams – Parade of the Ewoks
  • Williams – The Forest Battle
  • Encore Williams – The Imperial March

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… John Williams lifted his baton and cued one of the greatest scores in movie history. As the world awaits the launch of Episode VII, conductor Michael Seal, the CBSO and voice actor Marc Silk, who can be heard in the Phantom Menace film, present John Williams’ music from all six Star Wars films, from A New Hope to Revenge of the Sith. The Force is strong with this one!

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Review by Justine Halifax, Birmingham Mail:

Click here for full review

“Breathtaking and spectacular are the only worthy words I can use to sum up a concert staged at the Symphony Hall in honour of the music of the incredible Star Wars series.

CBSO 2015-16 Friday Night Classics: Star Wars proved not only to be an audible treat, one of which the great maestro John Williams himself would be proud of, but a visual delight, too.

With a welcome in the foyer for the arriving audience from both a storm trooper and a sandman, the tone of this memorable evening was set before we’d taken our seats.

This fantastic two-hour concert, performed to a packed hall of both young and old Star Wars’ fans, saw the amazing City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra join forces with the awesome CBSO Chorus.     […]

[…] For me the most spectacular pieces were those that featured the Chorus, including a breathtaking rendition of the Duel of Fates from Episode 1.”     …

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Review by Paul Marston, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

IT’s not unusual to hear people leaving City of Birmingham Symphony Hall Concerts saying ‘that was out of this world’.

But this performance went even further, it was out of the universe for Star Wars fans who packed the Symphony Hall to enjoy the dramatic music of the legendary John Williams which adds so much to the thrilling movies.

Many youngsters were there with their parents for the latest Friday Night Classics,  and one man admitted to going down the aisle to Star Wars music….and in full costume.

Williams, a big fan of British orchestras, sent a personal message from Los Angeles thanking the orchestra and conductor Michael Seal for performing so much of his music – written to ‘smack you in the eye’ – and regretting that he couldn’t be in the Symphony Hall for the event.”     …

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Review by Selwyn Knight, TheReviewsHub:

Click here for full review

…     “As the films were originally released through 20th Century Fox, there can be no other way to open than with the 20th Century Fox Fanfare, quickly followed by the Star Wars main theme. This is, of course, instantly recognisable to all, whether fans of the franchise or not. It sounds simple hiding a complex structure. The CBSO effortlessly reproduces the sound and changing moods. They are assisted in this, as ever, by the wonderful acoustics of the purpose-built Symphony Hall, an appropriate home for such grandeur.

Our conductor, Michael Seal, conducts energetically, appearing at times to be using his baton to dig the notes out.

It is astonishing to think that, despite some familial resemblances, the music for each Star Wars film is quite different to the others. There are themes – epic brass motifs, flowing strings, moments of introspection, and a vast variety of tuned percussion giving that slightly unsettling otherworldly feel – but each piece has its own personality. That is especially true of the charming and witty The Cantina Band from Episode 4: A New Hope. A cut-down jazz band featuring guitar and drum kit evokes that smoky jazz club atmosphere while still retaining an element of strangeness, causing smiles to propagate around the vast hall.

Supporting the CBSO is the CBSO Chorus, a vast choir of local people who come together under their director, Simon Halsey, to sing symphonic choral music. Their contribution to Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace and to the stirring and martial Battle of the Heroes from Revenge of the Sith that closes the first half is excellent, if a little surprising to some members of the audience seated behind them as they leap to their feet in unison during Duel of the Fates.”     …

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Review by Mark Newbold, StarWars.com:

Click here for full blog review

…     “Led by conductor Michael Seal, the CBSO started with Alfred Newman’s 20th Century Fox fanfare before launching into the familiar Star Wars theme from A New Hope. Then came one of the many musical surprises of the night as the piece ended not with the A New Hope credits, but with the triumphant end moments of Return of the Jedi. Seal was clearly loving it, encouraging his musicians to take a bow to rapturous applause at every opportunity. His enthusiasm was infectious, feeding the music-hungry crowd and leading them into a selection of themes from The Phantom Menace. “The Flag Parade” was presented in a very unfamiliar arrangement before leading into “Anakin’s Theme” and the “Adventures of Jar Jar Binks.” The City of Birmingham Chorus made themselves known, standing to perform the dramatic vocals from “Duel of the Fates.” In a room like this, with a knowledgeable crowd and an orchestra at the top of their game, it was an exhilarating moment.
CBSO Star Wars concert
Attack of the Clones — surely the most underrated of all the Star Wars scores — was next with Across the Stars, and from there we were treated to “Yoda’s Theme” and the “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back. A perennial crowd-pleaser, “The Imperial March” is certainly the best known Star Wars theme after the “Main Title” itself. Revenge of the Sith was next and once again the CBSO Chorus were used to great effect in “Battle of the Heroes,” sending the audience off to the intermission on a high.”     …

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A to Z of the CBSO

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 19th September, 7.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

  • Vivaldi Four Seasons (excerpt)
  • Zimmer Pirates of the Carribean
  • Williams – Star Wars = encore

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Put 90 top-flight musicians on one stage, and there’s no limit to what they can do. Three centuries in the making, the symphony orchestra is still the ultimate piece of music technology: at home in the concert hall or the movie studio, and capable of summoning up over 300 years of music in breathtaking live sound. Tonight, Michael Seal and the full CBSO walk you through an A to Z of the orchestra: with music ranging from Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine to Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean!

If you’re not sure where to begin with the CBSO, come along for just a tenner to find out more. And if you’re a regular – why not bring a friend to introduce them?

Brahms’ Fourth: Youth Orchestra Academy

Sunday 26th July, 7.00pm

Featuring

Programme

  • Lindberg Aventures, 12′
  • Strauss Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – suite, 36′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 4, 40′

“Astonishing” was one critic’s verdict on the CBSO Youth Orchestra’s recent 10th anniversary concert. Now the superb young players bring the birthday celebrations to a close with a concert that looks both forwards and back. Brahms’s mighty Fourth Symphony draws its strength from Bach, while Richard Strauss’s delicious Le Bourgeois gentilhomme brings the baroque spirit dancing into the 20th century. First, though, take a joyride through four centuries of orchestral favourites with one of our most brilliant living composers.

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Highlights included the gentle oboe joined by other winds and horns in the overture; flutes bringing out the dance-like quality of the minuet; the exuberance and confidence of the piano/trumpet combination painting the fencing master’s antics; leader Charlotte Moseley weaving in and out with the tailor’s precision stitches making sure the gentleman is suitably clad; an affecting, poignant muted sarabande; and the sheer joie de vivre of the dinner party itself, falling scales passed around the instruments like infectious laughter. The audience lapped it up and Seal applauded his players before turning to acknowledge the warm reception himself.

After the interval the stage was once more filled to the brim for Brahms’ Symphony no. 4 in E minor. As it happens, my last review also featured this piece, played by the Dresden Philharmonic, so how would these less experienced players fare by comparison? Let’s just say they didn’t just fill the stage, they owned it! The CBSO YOA tackled Brahms’ massive structure of a work with maturity beyond their years and really came into their own. From the confident, majestic attack and warmth of the strings, through fine handling of tempo changes to the first movement’s passionate close, they showed both discipline and musicality. The second movement allowed us a good wallow, the unanimity of the lower strings’ pizzicato paired with the poised line of brass and wind. In the third movement they brought out both a playful and martial feel, confident answering chords moving on apace. Full marks to the flute solo in the final movement, as well as the clarinet and eloquent trombones. Turning the corner into the clamorous closing stages, with staccato urgency and energy, this enthusiastic and talented orchestra rounded off a fine night of music-making. The audience may not have been full, but we enjoyed it fully.”

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Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A totally accessible, rarely performed, R Strauss’s ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilehomme’ suite charmed and delighted all. The reduced baroque orchestra has many exposed personal solos, from tender oboe, cello and viola to a sturdy bass trombone. As ever Strauss enjoys stretching his horns to the full, added to which the six percussionists tactfully made their mark with good effect. Smiling music for all, especially the braying sheep and twittering interruptive birds!

Then to the true meat of this evening: Brahms’ Symphony No 4. The full orchestra swept in with gutsy strings and splendid woodwind solo snippets. Although do take care with truly clean violin entries, even one hesitation shows through. Determined pizzicatos threatened to overwhelm at times but otherwise a truly passionate rendering of this challenging work. Brahms used a (beautifully played here) solemn flute as a soloist in the passacaglia until eventually trombones come into their own with their chunky solemn quasi sacred moment.”     …

Friday Night Classics: 21st Century Blockbusters

ThumbnailCelebrate and Share

Friday 6th March 2015 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Tommy Pearson  presenter
Roopa Panesar  sitar

Williams ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from Harry Potter/Philosopher’s Stone
Williams‘The Knight Bus’ from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Zimmer ‘Jack Sparrow’ from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Shore ‘Over Hill/Dreaming of Bag End’ from The Hobbit
Greenwood Music from There Will Be Blood
Armstrong ‘Glasgow Love Theme’ from Love, Actually
Zimmer Gladiator – ‘The Battle’
Rahman Slumdog Millionaire: Suite
Williams Star Wars Ep.III: Revenge of the Sith – ‘Battle of the Heroes’
Powell The Bourne Ultimatum – Faces Without Names
Horner Main Theme from Avatar
Giacchino Star Trek Into Darkness
Williams War Horse – ‘Dartmoor 1912’
Arnold/Price Sherlock suite
Powell How To Train Your Dragon

Encore – Williams – ‘Aunt Marge’s Waltz’ from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

A film doesn’t have to be old to be a classic. Think of the magic of Harry Potter, the sheer spectacle of Avatar and The Hobbit, the swashbuckling fun of Pirates of the Caribbean and the heartbreak of War Horse. And admit it… you’re already humming the tunes! Great music from great modern movies, delivered with flair by conductor Michael Seal and the full 80-piece City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. http://www.CBSO.co.uk

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Review by Paul Marston, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “The music, much of it by the remarkable John Williams, was powerful and dramatic, providing opportunities for some delightful solo contributions from members of the 80-piece orchestra.

Williams’ Battle of the Heroes from Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, contrasting with his beautiful, more gentle piece, Dartmoor 1912 from War Horse.

Other highlights included Howard Shore’s nostalgic melody for The Hobit: An Unexpected Journey, and James Homer’s stirring theme, I See You, from Avatar.

Another treat for the audience came with the stunning performance by Roopa Panesar, one of the finest sitar players to emerge on the Indian music scene in the UK, when she joined the orchestra for A.A. Rahman’s music for the suite from Slumdog Millionaire.”     …

American Classics with Freddy Kempf

ThumbnailDiscover

Wednesday 28th January 2015 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Freddy Kempf  piano

Bernstein: Divertimento 14′
Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F 29′
Listen on Spotify

Korngold: Symphony in F Sharp 53′
Listen on Spotify

A symphony from the New World… with a difference. Mahler declared Erich Korngold a genius, but Hitler had other ideas – and from exile in California, Korngold poured out all his hopes and sorrows in 53 minutes of grand, heartbroken passion. It’s a wonderful counterpart to Bernstein’s hilarious Divertimento and the irresistible jazz-age melodies of Gershwin’s “skyscraper concerto”, played by one of Britain’s favourite pianists.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Near the end Gershwin pares everything back to just a solo flute and the pianist, quietly duetting as if they were the last people left in a downtown bar late one night. Here Marie-Christine Zupancic and Kempf were quite magical in partnership. There was vitality and drive in the colourful finale. Kempf offered sparkling playing but, as in the Bernstein, I didn’t quite feel the orchestra were encouraged by Michael Seal to be quite as unbuttoned as the music demands. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable account of the concerto

 Erich Wolfgang Korngold attracted great attention as a youthful prodigy in Vienna. In the 1930s he made a new home in America where he put his prodigious talent to work writing many notable movie scores in Hollywood. Yet despite his success in the cinema Korngold continued to write concert music also. His only symphony was completed in 1951. It is an elusive work in the sense that opportunities to hear live performances are rare indeed. I first became acquainted with it through Rudolf Kempe’s pioneering 1972 recording – the MusicWeb International review by Ian Lace is well worth reading, not least for much valuable background information.  There have been a number of subsequent recordings of the work – including one by Sir Edward Downes for Chandos  – but I’ve never had a chance to hear it live until this evening.

 The symphony is scored for a large orchestra, including a substantial percussion section, and the scoring is constantly interesting and resourceful. Among many features that catch the listener’s ear are the percussive use of piano and marimba, especially in the first movement, and the rather spooky end to that movement, including col legno work by the strings. It was one of the achievements of this performance that Michael Seal and the CBSO brought out all the colour and rhythmic ingenuity in the work.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The first winner was Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento, a sparky masterpiece of sleight-of-hand wizardry bettering Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, allowing every section of the orchestra to shine (it was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, so there’s a topical connection, Andris Nelsons about to leave the CBSO for that band), and consummately delivered under the efficient and empowering baton of Michael Seal.

The second was George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, the greatest to emerge from the western hemisphere, so redolent of the aspirations of the United States, and delivered with idiomatic flair here by Freddy Kempf’s fleet pianism.

An initially staid orchestral contribution came to life once Kempf got going, the soloist positively encouraging attentive interplay between himself and the players, and his gorgeously singing cello-like tone in the lyrical episodes drawing an “anything you can do” response.

This was a performance radiating sheer pleasure, and will not easily be forgotten.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “Enjoying audible rapport with the CBSO, Freddy Kempf knitted its various sections together convincingly – though this performance, as with the work itself, was at its best in the Adagio; its trumpet theme plaintively phrased by Jonathan Holland, with Kempf maintaining tension admirably in the brief central cadenza prior to an eloquent climax. He made the most of the finale’s review of earlier ideas as part of its agitated progress, and if the peroration seemed a mite underwhelming, the breezy coda did not lack for panache.

After the interval, a welcome hearing (the first-ever in Birmingham?) for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F sharp of 1952. The composer’s most far-reaching attempt to recalibrate his innate late-Romanticism for the austere post-war era, it is a work fairly riven with contradiction for all that its ambition cannot be doubted. Seal had the measure of the initial Moderato with its bracing deployment of piano and percussion (not the only instance where Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony acts as a template), and purposeful interplay of its respectively ominous, yearning and poignant main themes. The quixotic Scherzo needed a little more agility for its acute contrasts in harmony and texture fully to register, but the Adagio was finely handled in terms of sombre emotions which reach a climax of tragic and consciously Mahlerian import prior to the resigned close.”     …

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Review by Owen Walton, OldMusicalCuriostiyShop:

Click here for full review

…     “Michael Seal, a passionate devotee of the composer, has waited some time to conduct the work in Birmingham and I for one am extremely grateful to him for being afforded the opportunity to hear the symphony live played by a world-class ensemble.

For that is the impression that this performance left; a truly astonishing display both of orchestral virtuosity and of commitment. We all know that British orchestras operate on a minimal rehearsal schedule and the results here were deeply impressive. There is no real Korngold tradition in Birmingham, the orchestra having performed his music for the first time in 1993 (the now ubiquitous Violin Concerto which would, arguably, have become a repertoire staple much earlier if it were not for the length of time it took for soloists capable of rivalling Heifetz in the work to emerge) and little else since. Considering, then, that this was a new work to the majority of players the results were a testament to their versatility and to Seal’s ability to galvanise his players.

Korngold wrote expertly for orchestra and the CBSO obviously relished the challenges that faced them in every department. The brass, in particular, now seem to have a sound when playing as a full section that is deep, dark and centred in the Concertgebouw mould (how different they sound than in the Rattle era). The strings start with a focussed bass section, rich celli, vibrant violas. The upper strings have a leanness (do not mistake this for undernourished) that make easy work of clarifying Korngold’s frequently dense close harmony writing. If the second movement scherzo was a feat of ensemble playing and expert crowd control, the dark heart of the work (the ensuing adagio) sang with an eloquence that was intensely moving when not shrieking with despair. Korngold’s own brand of wistful nostalgia, in which he brings to the fore fragments of what sound once popular Viennese songs brings to mind the sentiment of ‘Gluck mir das verblieb’ from Die Tote Stadt (Ich kenne das Lied/Ich hört es oft in jungen, in schöneren Tagen/ Es hat noch eine Strophe- weiß ich sie noch?). These small ideas seemed to materialise and fade away, half-remembered experiences of a happier time. It takes intelligence and an ear for orchestral balance for this to work.”     …

Panufnik Centenary

ThumbnailDiscover

Wednesday 24 September 2014 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Peter Donohoe  piano

Stravinsky: Greeting Prelude 1′
Beethoven: Overture, Leonora No. 3 14′
Panufnik: Piano Concerto 24′
Listen on Spotify

Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde 18′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Panufnik: Symphony No.2 (Sinfonia Elegiaca) 24′
Listen on Spotify

When Andrzej Panufnik escaped from communist Poland, Britain offered him a home – and so it was that one of Europe’s greatest post-war composers became principal conductor of the CBSO. Tonight, on what would have been his 100th birthday, we celebrate with some of the music Panufnik conducted in Birmingham, and two of his own finest works: as fresh and communicative today as when he conducted them here himself.

Supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of Polska Music programme Polska Music

If you like this concert, you might also like:
War and Peace, Thursday 6th November
Brahms and Beethoven, Wednesday 25th March 2015 & Saturday 28 March 2015
Parsifal, Sunday 17th May 2015

 

Pre-concert talk at 6.15pm
Panufnik Centenary
Composer Roxanna Panufnik talks about her father Andrzej, in conversation with Jessica Duchen.

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Interview with Roxanna Panufnik, by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full article

“With possibly the neatest scheduling ever, the CBSO’s concert at Symphony Hall on September 24 celebrates the centenary to the day of the birth of one of its previous principal conductors, Andrzej Panufnik.

Born in Warsaw into a highly musical family, and with a mother of British origins, Panufnik studied composition and conducting during the years preceding the Second World War. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 saw the destruction of his works (he reconstructed some later), and after a post-war period conducting orchestras in Warsaw and Krakow Panufnik decided to devote himself to composition.

Hugely patriotic, he loathed the Stalinist regime then prevailing in his native country, and in 1954, whilst in Switzerland conducting recordings of his own music, he and his British-born first wife managed to escape to the West.

In 1956 it was announced that principal conductor Rudolf Schwarz would be leaving the CBSO at the end of the season to succeed Sir Malcolm Sargent at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the hunt was on for Schwarz’ replacement. Rather similar to the process going on now at the CBSO, as they seek a successor to Andris Nelsons, guest conductors were invited to give “audition” concerts, and Panufnik was among them.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Nor was Donohoe fazed by the uncoiled aggression of the Molto agitato finale, which fuses elements from its predecessors (powered by some visceral work from the percussion) as well as building to a bracing apotheosis via an accompanied cadenza such as ranks with the composer’s most thrilling passages. A timely revival of an impressive work.

Following the interval, the ‘Prelude and Liebestod’ from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (1859) further opened out the concert’s expressive remit – Seal keeping the former’s distanced ambiguity in focus on the way to a fervent culmination and fatalistic close, while ensuring that the ‘Liebestod’ brought the requisite transcendence during its radiant closing pages. Not music one might readily associate with Panufnik, yet it was an overt presence in that of Szymanowski – in turn an early (and an obliquely enduring) influence on his Polish successor.

Transcendence of a different kind is evinced in Sinfonia elegiaca – the second of Panufnik’s ten Symphonies, completed in 1957 on the basis of material from his discarded Symphony of Peace of six years earlier. Shorn of its propagandist choral component, the piece stands as a finely achieved statement at a time of personal and political turmoil – whose three continuous movements move from a Molto andante that alternates between pensive woodwind chorale and ravishing string cantilena, via a Molto allegro whose barbarity is (just) held in check by its formal subtlety, to another Molto andante such as utilises earlier ideas along with a new string threnody before it ethereally recollects the work’s opening. A committed response from the CBSO was ably controlled by Seal to the evident appreciation of the audience.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Various composers were brought to mind here: bustling Prokofiev, night-music Bartok, stark Ives, rippling Ravel, but all of them assimilated into an urgently communicative personality all Panufnik’s own.

Even more urgent is Panufnik’s Symphony no.2, the “Sinfonia Elegiaca”, an anti-war protest against violence and aggression, and given its British première here in 1958.

Tellingly scored, generously melodic, and unflinching dramatic (such blaring horns in the central section’s mad display of violence), this is a work of immense emotional and musical strength, and deserves a whole raft of hearings, not least in these times where we remember and where we dread.

The CBSO responded with grateful enthusiasm.

For the rest, we heard Stravinsky’s wittily precise Greeting Prelude, a Beethoven Leonore no.3 Overture in which Seal drew a huge sound from the CBSO which only Symphony Hall could comfortably accommodate (portentous offstage trumpet, too), and a Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde phrased and shaped with a well-judged feel for the music’s harmonic pacing.”

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb SeenandHeard:

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…     “……And profundity. For if this memorable concert, which included a massive tranche of Wagner’s Tristan and for some the most satisfying of Beethoven’s overtures to Fidelio, the almost symphonic Leonore no. 3, both in handsome performances from all the orchestral sections (duly congratulated at the end) under Seal’s sensibly judged leadership, stirred the depths of emotion – that of the love-lorn Leonora and love-torn Isolde – it was in Panufnik’s second symphony (the second of ten), the Sinfonia Elegiaca (Panufnik, a year younger than Britten, liked such titles: Sacra, Rustica, Mystica, Votiva), a profound lament for war and its victims of all kind (the composer lived through the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, and the fatal 1944 uprising encouraged by Russia and crushed by the Nazis, but he widens his vision to a worldwide conspectus of suffering), with its a slow-fast-slow (ie double-andante, almost double-adagio layout) that from its almost Vaughan Williams-like, nervously serene opening generates a grieving one might look for in, say, Shostakovich 7, Tchaikovsky 6 or the aching tragedy of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s 1939 Concerto Funèbre.

Panufnik’s determination to work with tiny cells – major-minor thirds, or elsewhere seconds – reflects a Beethovenian precision and a Haydnesque incisiveness. It worked better here, in this elegy, than in his Piano Concerto, despite Peter Donohoe’s valiant efforts, looking a bit like a peak-scaling John Ogdon, to make multiple decoration work. Such toccata-like writing put one in mind of Malcolm Williamson’s similar propensity in Hyperion’s magnificent new recording of all Williamson’s piano concerti, CDA 68011/2. But it did not impact in the way this magnificent and moving symphony, punctuated by massive CBSO brass ostinati did, an opening cor anglais elegy, and strange feelings from string harmonics at both the start and chiasmic close that sounded almost bewilderingly like that rarely-used French instrument, the theremin, which generates such eerie terror in the film noir scores of Miklós Rózsa. If one had to compare Panufnik’s strange brand of modalism to another, it might just be to near-neighbour Kodály at his height.”     …

 

CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy

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Saturday 26th July 2014 at 7.00pm

Town Hall, Birmingham 0121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Youth Orchestra Academy

Michael Seal  conductor

Kodály: Dances of Marosszek 12′
Strauss: Metamorphosen 26′
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) 47′
Listen on Spotify

Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony blew classical music sky-high. Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen is a cry of anguish in a world devastated by madness. This is music of extremes: ardent, eloquent, and pulsing with emotion – in other words, perfect for the 50 committed young musicians of the superb CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy. Kodály’s fiery Transylvanian dances light the touchpaper: prepare to be blown away.

“These marvellous young players are invincible”

Please allow extra time to travel to this concert if you are coming by road. The A38 St Chad’s and Queensway tunnels through Birmingham will be completely closed to all traffic from 10pm on Friday 18 July until 6am on Monday 1 September 2014. More information is available from brumtunnels.co.uk.

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Michael Seal conducted a strong sinewy performance where details were clear – the slow movement’s plaintive oboe lament and the basses’ stabbing interventions for example – but always suborned to the overall narrative drive.

The players clearly relished Beethoven’s dramatic thrusts and parries but also excelled in the jolly bucolic trio with its virtuoso hunting calls – fine work by the horns – and the skittish dancing finale.

The symphony’s funeral march stalks eerily through the bass line at the close of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, his string threnody to the destruction of his beloved Dresden, the tainting of German culture by the Nazis and perhaps his own ill-fated collaboration with them.

The bass section captured perfectly how the music crumbles into dust as Beethoven’s accusatory shade appears.”     …

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